By Peter Chong for Parmigiani Fleurier
We begin our exploration of Parmigiani Fleurier's 5 manufactures right at the most basic factory within the group. Atokalpa. An amalgam of two words...the Greek for atom ato, and Sanskrit for biggest kalpa. Tucked in the mountains high in the Swiss Jura, this manufacture is a shining example of industrialization to produce extremely quality components.
What do they do at Atokalpa?
The product list comprise of two main lines, viz the regulating organ and the wheel.
The Regulating Organ
Within their regulating organ line, Atokalpa makes hairsprings, balance wheels, and all the accompanying hardware, including the screws, rate adjusting weights. This makes them one of the few manufactures who are able to produce entire escapements on their own from raw materials like metal rods. These components are not only manufactured on their premises, but also decorated and adjusted according to their client's requirements.
Traditionaly, the Swiss watchmaking industry depended almost entirely on Nivarox, a Swatch Group company for its supply of hairsprings. But in the last 10 years or so, a few future looking companies have started to invest heavily in the manufacture this on their own. Atokalpa is one of those who have succedded, and are now supplying many other watch brands within the industry with this invaluable and essential component.
As the final quality depends on what the client specifies, a range of finishing and adjustments are offered, from very high quality to extremely high quality state of art level. Needless to say, only the highest level of decoration and finest adjustment is done for the regulating organs destined for Parmigiani Fleurier products.
Atokalpa also manufactures many small components within their Wheel product line. They make the most exquisite screws, pinions, wheels, snails, cams, levers, and small components which make complications within watches function correctly. The components are sometimes designed inhouse in Atokalpa, or designs provided by their clients (including Parmigiani Fleurier), and are manufactured, finished and polished in the premises.
For example, a simple component like a tiny screw, say used to hold a bridge in place within the movement begins life as a CAD drawing, either in the clients design or Atokalpa's design department. This drawing is translated into CNC instructions for the screw to be manufactured. The process then takes the screw to several levels of finishing, like sand and water washing to smoothen the surface. Successive sand and water washings with finer and finer sand particles are used to produce a finer surface. The output from the washings are then sent to polishing. And the final product complete.
At each step in the process, a full quality control is taken to ensure the final product is in accordance to what is specified. It is quite amazing the amount of work and skill involved in producing a component as “simple” as a screw. Suffice to say, with this level of work, these are some of the most expensive screws in the industry and destined for the best watches.
The Atokalpa reputation in quality of these small components is well known within the industry, and one will find these components in some of the most respected and well known brands.